On May 20th Bill and Willie Geist shared their story on fatherhood and family in an outstanding read called “Good Talk Dad: The Birds and the Bees…and other Conversations We Forgot to Have.” Willie followed his father’s footsteps by working in the news and media industry. Bill has been a journalist and TV news correspondent for many years. Willie has been busy too with his work on “The Today Show” and “Morning Joe.”
They took this opportunity to write this book to reminisce about their memorable family moments and their tales of fatherhood. I was able to chat with Bill and Willie about their book, family, and what life lessons they have learned from each other. “Good Talk Dad” is available wherever books are sold.
Art Eddy: Let’s talk about your book, “Good Talk Dad.” It is great read. Willie how long was this book in the works?
Willie Geist: Not that long believe it or not. Somebody approached us and asked us if me and my dad ever thought about doing something together. I guess we always loosely talked about working together, but we weren’t sure how. We work at two different networks. There were all kinds of things that we could have done, but didn’t do.
Someone said that you two should do something together. I really think it was spurred when my dad announced two years ago that he had Parkinson’s, publically anyway. That was something that we really didn’t talk about as a family. My sister and I didn’t know about it for ten years because my mom and dad kept it. We said that was kind of strange we didn’t talk about something that was so important. What else haven’t we talked about?
So then it turned into the birds and the bees, drinking, and all sorts of big talks you are supposed to have with your father. We realized that we haven’t had these talks. I don’t think we lost anything by not having them. We are a great family. My dad and I have a great relationship and whatever we did seemed to work out really well. So we thought it would be funny to go back in time and now have these talks. Now that I am approaching middle age is it even more awkward. (All laugh.)
Bill Geist: I had the talk with him about the dangers of alcohol last week. (All laugh.)
WG: A little late. I am not going to lie. (All laugh.)
BG: It turns out we had a lot of material because we didn’t have these big talks. You think you are going to have these big talks while walking in a forest and the sky is blue and sit down on a rock and talk about life, but you never do.
AE: You guys both have been on the New York Times bestseller list. I am thinking that this book will be on that list as well. Still it seems that you guys did this book not to be on that list, but to make a great family heirloom of sorts to pass on to future generations. Am I right in that Bill?
BG: I think so. Willie talked about that a lot. It was like when I did a piece on my daughter’s wedding. It was really just to get a free wedding video so I didn’t have to hire anybody. (All laugh.)
WG: I really think there is a lot to what you said. It is fun to sit around and tell these stories. Hopefully some people buy the book, but honestly who gets a chance to sit with their father or mother and recant every great story from their lives together. Someday I can just hand this book to my son or daughter or my grandkids and say this is who I was when I was a young boy. This was who your grandfather was.
That is pretty special. That was a huge incentive to me and I think to my dad. Now we have a history book.
BG: Yeah, but it is a little unnerving, maybe disturbing to see it all in one volume. I didn’t realize the magnitude of our quirkiness. Not dysfunctional, but quirky.
AE: Willie what was the process like for you guys deciding what to put in the book and stories to keep out of the book?
WG: We sat down and starting picking off stories with my mother, who was a huge help with this book. My wife Christina also helped. She has known me since I was 11 years old. So we have all this history, the four of us together.
We sat down and made a list. What about that story? Do you remember that thing that happened at Christmas and stories like that? We honestly took the funniest ones. If there was a great story with rich details we would tell it. If it was a shorter, one note moment we had these Geist days in history that we wrote up. We left some on the cutting room floor, but we definitely have all the highlights in there.
AE: Bill you have been on TV for a while covering the news. You now see your son following your footsteps. There is a lot more mediums out there now today. What is one thing you wished that was available for you that your son uses on a daily basis when you started out as a reporter?
BG: It is interesting because it has changed completely. You can Google things and find stories that way. It was very difficult in the old days without such resources. At the same time it kind of cheapens the story. So everyone has heard them even before the paper came out. If we do a weekly TV show they have already heard it. So it is still a challenge. So I don’t know if I like Google or not.
AE: Willie what advice did you ask your dad when you started out working on TV?
WG: What is so funny is that people ask me that and I am not sure my dad and I had a talk about that. My dad said that when he was going into his career, his father, who ran a little newspaper in Fisher, Illinois told him don’t go into journalism.
Well when I graduated college my dad said to me go work on Wall Street. Or the joke he always had was that he noticed the plumber pulling up in a Mercedes. (All laugh.) If you want to make money there are other ways to do it. So I don’t know. We really didn’t sit down and talk about it. All I can say is that by his example I knew that his job was fun and his life was fun. He got to meet some really cool people, go to really fun places, and write stories and do it in his own voice.
We never sat down and talked about what I should do or how I should do it. I watched and knew it was a fun life and I wanted to do that.
AE: Bill what were some of the morals you looked to have instilled into your kids as they were growing up?
BG: I don’t know what falls into the morality category, but one was to try and be nice to people. Do unto others as you would have want done to you. I never stated it that way, but that is a major one. Probably why I am struggling with this is that their mother was the one who taught them most of that. Mothers are still the most important of the parents.
AE: Willie do you find yourself saying things to your kids that your dad has said to you back in the day?
WG: Yeah, I guess so. My dad wasn’t a huge disciplinarian. My mom dropped the hammer most of the time, but I think we stress the same things just by watching my dad. Be kind and be generous. Don’t take yourself so seriously. That has always been a big one. My dad and I love and laugh when we see larger than life people in the media and the celebrity world who are so deadly serious about themselves and their brands.
I think I learned that kind of B.S. detector, kindness, and generosity from my dad. I think we work hard to pass that onto our kids. You don’t feel like you are teaching your kids to have a sense of humor, but I guess it is in the culture of your house. Then they start saying things that make you laugh and you are like where did that come from? (All laugh.)
AE: This question is for both of you. Bill you can answer first. What advice would you give to new dads out there?
BG: I would say to guide them in a loose fashion than head on collisions and having them sit down and having talks with them. I think a lot of it is in the dialogue that continues. I think that it is just to spend as much time with them as you can. There is no substitute for just time in general. When we would spend time together I hoped that Willie would pick up cues from what I was doing.
WG: I think I got that from you too dad. My dad had a very busy job. He had a hard job at The New York Times. He worked a lot. Yet somehow he was on that bus and made it home. He coached our little league team. I was not one of these kids that would look up in the stands and wonder where my dad is.
BG: That was because I was on the field yelling. (All laugh.)
WE. Yeah. Well not at me, but the umpire. You wouldn’t know it because he is such a likeable, mild mannered fellow. He was a bear in the stands. He would go after the ref. He was always there. So hearing him say that I would say is so true.
I do that too. There are nights where I will get frustrated if I have to go back out and do something for work. It is because that means I miss the precious three or four hours that I get with my kids in the evening and have dinner with them. So I think time spent is really it.